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Houston megachurch shooter had history of mental illness but still was able to buy a gun, her mother-in-law says

The shooting at Houston’s Lakewood Church over the weekend was a “completely preventable horror” as the woman who opened fire had a notable mental illness but was still allowed to own a gun, her mother-in-law said.

“My daughter-in-law when she was taking medication for schizophrenia was a very sweet and loving woman,” Walli Carranza, the mother-in-law of 36-year-old Genesse Ivonne Moreno wrote in a Facebook post Monday. “But mental illness is real illness and when family members seek emergency protections they’re not doing so for their own sake but for the sake of the person who is ill.”

Investigators are still trying to determine why Moreno opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in the popular megachurch Sunday. Two people were injured, including Moreno’s 7-year-old son, before Moreno was killed by law enforcement.

Moreno had been put under an order for emotional detention in 2016. She had a mental health history documented by Houston police, said Christopher Hassig, commander of the Houston Police Department’s homicide division.

Carranza, the shooter’s mother-in-law, had unsuccessfully petitioned to be declared conservator of Moreno’s son Sam in 2022. She said Sam was wounded in the head when off-duty officers shot and killed Moreno at the church.

Moreno should never have been allowed to own firearms, her mother-in-law said. Texas has no red flag law – also known as an extreme risk protection order law – that would allow authorities to take weapons from a person thought to be in crisis.

“The fault lies in a child protective services of Montgomery County and Harris County that refused to remove custody from a woman with known mental illness that was not being treated and with the state of Texas for not having strong red flag laws that would have prevented her from owning or possessing a gun,” Carranza wrote.

“Child Protective Services is investigating the shooting at Lakewood Church alongside law enforcement. At this time, DFPS cannot provide additional information because specific details of investigations are confidential according to law,” said Melissa Lanford, a spokesperson for the state Department of Family and Protective Services.

In an interview with CNN affiliate KHOU, Carranza said that she feared Moreno might be the shooter the moment she heard the news. “She had a particular kind of schizophrenia that caused her to become violent,” Carranza said. “She threatened her husband, my own son, and we still couldn’t get intervention.”

How the shooting unfolded

First responders and members of law enforcement surround the area after a shooting Sunday at television evangelist Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston. - Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters
First responders and members of law enforcement surround the area after a shooting Sunday at television evangelist Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston. - Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters

The shooter confronted a security guard Sunday outside the Lakewood Church, where well-known televangelist and pastor Joel Osteen preaches, shortly before 2 p.m. Investigators believe she may have revealed a weapon to the guard, who was unarmed, and forced her way in, according to Houston Police Chief Troy Finner.

Wearing a trench coat and backpack, she entered the converted sports arena between church services and opened fire in a hallway with an AR-platform rifle, Hassig said. One federal law enforcement source told CNN she fired around 30 bullets.

Two off-duty officers were at the church: a 28-year-old Houston Police Department officer and a 38-year-old agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, both with less than five years of service. The two officers engaged the shooter and she was fatally hit, the police chief said.

Moreno’s son, who was shot in the head during the ordeal, is in critical condition at a hospital, Finner said. It’s unclear who fired the shot that wounded the child and CNN has reached out to police for more information.

A 57-year-old man who was also shot in the leg has been released from a medical facility, Finner said.

It remains unclear what led up to the shooting and what motivated Moreno, who has a lengthy criminal history and had been going through a bitter divorce. Investigators have said they are attempting to unravel whether the incident was politically motivated or carried out by a mentally disturbed individual, according to a federal law enforcement source.

“We’re in the infancy stages of this” investigation, Special Agent in Charge Douglas Williams of the FBI’s Houston office said Monday. But as far as the motive and how the shooter got her weapon, “We’re not there yet.”

The shooting at a place of worship is just another example of gun violence upending American life at places once considered safe. Other targets have included schoolsgrocery stores, outlet malls, hospitalscollege campuses and house parties.

Police say shooter had history of mental health issues and had antisemitic writings

Hours after the shooting, authorities searched Moreno’s home in Conroe – about 50 miles north of Lakewood Church, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Monday.

According to a search warrant obtained by CNN, investigators said the shooter claimed at the scene to have a bomb but had yellow rope similar to a detonation cord and “substances consistent with the manufacture of explosive devices.”

CNN has reached out to the Houston Fire Department for further information.

The shooter used an AR-15 with a “Palestine” sticker on it during the attack, which she legally purchased in December, police said. She also had a .22 caliber weapon in her bag that was not used, according to a federal law enforcement source.

Carranza, Moreno’s mother-in-law, is a rabbi. Despite the shooter’s past antisemitic writings, Carranza wrote that she doesn’t believe Moreno was motivated by hate.

“Although my former daughter-in-law raged against Israel and Jews in a pro-Palestinian rant yesterday this has nothing to do with Judaism or Islam,” Carranza wrote on Facebook Monday.

Authorities have a lot of work to do before any motive is clear, CNN law enforcement analyst John Miller said Monday.

“That’s why federal authorities were executing search warrants,” he said. They’re “looking for computers, any written documents, thumb drives, social media, online. They’re really peeling back through the identity of this person.”

Information from Moreno’s social media accounts and local authorities paints a portrait of a single mother with a history of mental health challenges grappling with the ups and downs of trying to turn her life around and launch a business.

Hassig said the shooter used multiple aliases, including both male and female names.

Records from the Texas Department of Public Safety show Moreno had a string of arrests for minor offenses over the last two decades, including illegal possession of a weapon. But in her 30s, she described herself on social media as the founder of a real-estate and financial services firm. By her own account on social media pages, she is involved in sales of everything from new condos to shopping malls.

A booking photo of Genesse Ivonne Moreno - Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office
A booking photo of Genesse Ivonne Moreno - Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office

A social media post in March 2020 shows a screenshot of a form letter from Lakewood Church thanking Moreno for her donation. The police chief was asked Monday whether the shooter had a connection to the church and he said it was under investigation.

A CNN review showed the story of a bitter custody battle between Moreno and representatives for her ex-spouse’s family played out on her social media accounts. In 2022, when she had her divorce proceeding transferred to county court, according to an attorney who represented her, Moreno was also arrested on a weapons charge, a misdemeanor, which was cleared with two days’ time served in the Fort Bend County Jail.

According to police, there was some sort of family dispute between the shooter and her ex-husband and ex-husband’s family, some of whom are Jewish.

“This might possibly be where all this stems from,” Hassig added. He said police also found antisemitic writings connected with the shooter.

Attorney William Capasso said he represented Moreno in 2021-2022 and told CNN that Moreno went by the name Jeffrey Moreno Carranza at the time.

Capasso said he later withdrew as her attorney and she represented herself in divorce proceedings.

The shooter’s complicated history adds to the uncertainty around establishing a motive and has created a “conundrum” for authorities determining whether this shooting was done out of hate or a mental-health crisis, Miller said.

CNN’s Raja Razek, Ashley Killough, Jamiel Lynch, Lauren Mascarenhas and Zoe Sottile contributed to this report.

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